For the second time in recent weeks, a report says Louisiana’s voucher program hurts the classroom performance of students who receive them.
“We find the program had a negative impact on participating students’ academic achievement in the first two years of its operation, most clearly in math,” according to the study issued Monday.
The review was done by the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, which is based at Tulane University, and a University of Arkansas education center called the School Choice Demonstration Project.
The results are sure to be part of any debate during the 2016 regular legislative session to put new restrictions on the program, which costs the state about $42 million per year.
Vouchers are state aid for low-income students attending public schools rated C, D or F to help move them to private or parochial schools.
The aid for tuition averages nearly $5,000 per student compared with $8,500 per pupil at public schools.
More than 7,100 students rely on vouchers this school year, and surveys show parents register high satisfaction rates with the program.
However, a December report by the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said vouchers actually are hurting student achievement.
That review focused on the first school year vouchers went statewide in Louisiana — 2012-13.
The Tulane study released on Monday focused on 2012-13 and 2013-14, with some of the same conclusions as the national snapshot.
“Our estimates indicate that an LSP (Louisiana Scholarship Program) scholarship user who was performing at roughly the 50th percentile at baseline fell 24 percentile points below their control group counterparts in math after one year and 8 percentile points below in reading,” according to the report.
“In year 2, LSP scholarship users continued to score below their control group counterparts by 13 percentile points in math,” it says.
Any changes in the second year of reading were unclear.
A student scoring at the 50th percentile is scoring better than half his peers and worse than half.
The review focused on 1,525 voucher students in grades three through six, and the sample was similar in demographics to the overall population, according to the study.
The report said there are several possible explanations for the results.
Private schools have been under no pressure to align to state test standards, and the private schools that agreed to accept voucher students may have not been prepared for students with such academic and financial needs.
In addition, less than one-third of private schools statewide agreed to take part in the voucher program in its first year.
State rules and other hurdles “may have played a role in preventing the private school choice program from attracting the kind of private schools that would deliver better outcomes to their participants,” the report says.
Ann Duplessis, president of the pro-voucher group Louisiana Federation for Children, said in a statement that voucher students are outpacing others in achieving grade level or the category above it. “We must remember all scholarship program students previously attended failing and underperforming schools,” said Duplessis, a former state senator from New Orleans.
The report said voucher students in the 2012-13 group studied scored about 20 percentile points below the state average the previous year on key state exams in English, math and social studies.
In a prepared statement state Superintendent of Education John White said, “Scholarship students are showing steady, long-term improvements.”
Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and a voucher critic, said during a panel discussion of the report Monday that statewide vouchers were launched in 2012 with a brilliant marketing campaign.
“Look, this was bathed in politics and politics shall make it better,” Monaghan said.
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